It makes perfect sense that an individual with sound mental health is someone who will perform better at work and be more settled in every aspect of their life. Athletes are no different.
In fact, it is more important for athletes to work on developing the skills to enable them have healthy head spaces due to the unique, highly competitive environment in which they exist.
The World Health Organisation has defined mental health as a state of wellbeing in which every individual:
realises his or her own potential
recognises their own abilities
can cope with the normal stressors of life
can work productively and fruitfully
Is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
According to Australian mental health charity Beyond Blue “it encompasses physical and mental health and wellbeing, injury and illness, social health and social responsibility, lifestyle competencies, education and career development/ management and mentoring”.
The elite sporting world has a tendency to hyper-focus on one element of the athlete’s life: winning and performance. This approach can be effective in the short term but can also lead to essential facets of life being ignored. This one dimensional approach can lead to mental and physical burn-out, shortened careers and complex transitions out of sport.
The stigma of mental health issues in the sporting world has led to a culture of masking in order to not show “weakness”. This has resulted in the downfall of many athletes, far too soon. We believe the strength lies in being able to safely acknowledge and deal with mental health problems.
A holistic approach to athlete wellbeing and mental health is necessary to maintain high performance for longer career spans. Providing athletes with the knowledge and tools they need to excel, enjoy and live in the moment with their sporting careers and have the dual effect of building personal resilience so that they can prepare for the change of life after sport.
Mental health is as important as physical health. The sporting community has a responsibility to athletes to break down the stigma associated with mental health issues and allow them to tackle their personal issues head on with the support and guidance they need, without the risk of losing their place on the team.